Friday, September 22, 2006

Almost Home ....

Washington, the seat of power, which is probably why so much ... uh-oh, this is a public website, we all know where I was just about to go, so I’d better not. The MESSENGER OF TRUTH book tour continues: I’m in Washington D.C. today, having flown in from Nashville yesterday, and tomorrow it’s Pittsburg. After almost three weeks of non-stop flying my ears are ringing, my sinuses are playing up and I have pulled my back something fierce while wrangling my suitcase from the baggage claim carousel in Cleveland. Which is why the astute publicity folk at my publishers decided that I should have a bit of a treat this week – a couple of hours and a hot stone massage at a spa in Milwaukee. Oh yes, that’s the kind of schedule change I really like!

I’m from the kind of background where the nearest you came to being pampered was a gift of cheap bath salts for Christmas, those old-fashioned square blocks that came in too-sweet scents like “rose” or “violet,” and had pink and blue flowers on the box. They would sit in the bathrom for ages and ages, crumbling into oblivion, not because I didn’t bathe, but because I didn’t have time to linger – lingering meant that you were a shirker as far as work was concerned, and there was always a job to be done somewhere in our house. Which is why I took to the spa experience like a duck to water, though I was well into my forties before I had even been near such a thing – I'd never even had a proper manicure!

So, there I was at a spa in Milwaukee, face down on the massage table, being wafted into a netherworld of relaxation, when the massage therapist says, “Have you had that mark on the back of your leg for long?”
Immediate return from zone of pleasure.
“What mark?”
She slaps another hot stone on my back.
“That thing that looks like an old bruise.”
I close my eyes again and shrug, but this girl was determined, in a spa-like way.
“Only ... it doesn’t look like a bruise.”
“What do you mean? I bruise easily, so it’s probably an old one.”
“Well, this looks like it could be a blood clot – you might want to keep an eye on it”
Thinks: Keep an eye on it? Keep and eye on it? 2,700 miles away from my doctor, a blood clot in my leg, still hours and hours of flying in front of me with a deep vein thrombosis, and you want me to keep an eye on it?
“Do you think it’ll be OK?” I said, trying not to sound just a little concerned.
“Hmmm. It should be, but watch it.”
She rubbed another one of those stones between my shoulder blades, but the magic was gone, evaporated. I twisted my back again in the shower room trying to have a gander at the offending clot-like thing, which I have since ignored. I’m sure it’s a bruise.

Last night I was looking back at some essays I’d written ages ago, penned as an introduction to several pieces I’d completed for a class on memoir. I came across the following:

“There are days in California, perhaps just after a winter rainstorm, or when the light is glancing through the trees just so on a morning in mid-April, that I could close my eyes and think that I am in Kent. But I am not and the truth of the matter is that the feeling only lasts for so long before America crashes into my daydream. Sometimes I think of going back for longer than the two weeks here and two weeks there, but another truth is that I am neither here nor there. I do not belong to Kent any more, even though it is the cornerstone of my heart, of who I know myself to be. And though this is my home now, I do not belong as someone who was born in this country belongs. Instead I am a renter on this earth, living in this place or that and leaving the ghosts of my memories there behind me. But I do so love Kent.”

Kent is the county in southern England where I was born and raised. I’ve written about it many times, as if tweaking my roots to see if they are still there. But what struck me was “neither here not there.” There it was again, and so timely. I know I’ve written about this before, but it came up again yesterday, in conversation with the delightful woman who was my media escort for the day – a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to this country from Lebanon some 30 years ago. We had the kind of conversation that I have had before with fellow immigrants to this country, about being “neither here nor there.” After about four years (and many seem to agree that four years is the cut-off point), you feel different when you return to your own country, not quite slotting into place. And then in America, even though you’ve worn a place for yourself, much as rock is fashioned by the sea, you are still different.

Not that the feeling is necessarily uncomfortable, it’s just what it is. As an American who has lived for most of his adult life in Britain, writer Bill Bryson speaks of this with great humor and insight. My friend Glenda lived in the UK for seventeen years or so. When she goes back to the UK, she says, “I’m going home to London.” And when it’s time for her return flight to the States, she says, “I’m going home to California.” I think she now calls India home, too.

So we talked about this phenomenon, my Lebanese friend and I, and in that time I felt as if I were with kin. There we were, both with our accents, both with a slight American rhythm to our speech, each of us talking about our two countries – America/Lebanon; America/Britain - as if discussing family: with great affection, with some shame at the errors and terrors we’ve seen, frustration at the things we’d like to change, and pride at what we perceived to be the very best in those lands we call "home." The fact that she had spent time in the UK and I have visited the Middle East didn’t hurt either. I don’t know that we came to great conclusions, and we certainly didn't change the world in this, the seat of power. But perhaps in that there is a key. At the end of the day, it’s the things that brought us together that were really important – even those things we disagreed upon. Anything else was neither here nor there.

California here I come – seven days and counting! Mind you, home for a week, then off again ....

And for those of you who've asked for an update on Sara, well, my breath of southerly wind is still in some trouble. With the infection not abating following her tooth extraction and various other measures to try to cure her, she finally had a major procedure about 11 days ago - a "bone flap" operation in which the cheekbone is elevated to allow the surgeon greater access via an incision, then they try to remove as much debris and undesirable matter as possible. She's had daily sinus flushes with antiseptic via a tube in her forehead, which was removed yesterday. Now we are almost to a place, Sara and me, where we are on our own, because vets only have so many options. We've been there before in the relatively short time we've been together, so we'll make our decisions as a team, horse and human, and I know Sara will let me know when she's had enough of trying to fix this thing. In the meantime, she's eating, she's full of energy, so I'm told, and she still has her attitude. Ah, the attitude - music to my ears - all the time she's an opinionated diva of a mare, I know we have a chance.


  1. It probably doesn't matter how long we've lived away, we will still think of where we're from as home.

    I remember those little bath salts. They looked like petrified laundry detergent.

    Stay well, J. Keeping my fingers crossed for Sara to make a full recovery.

  2. from Jacqueline

    Thanks so much, Patty. I should have sent my blog to you yesterday to post, but because I was in an hotel with fast internet service that I could access, I thought, "Oh, I'll be OK." I should have anticipated the gremlins coming out to play - this morning I went to my computer early to post my blog, only to find that the hotel's entire internet system was down, and didn't go online again until lunchtime. Those gremlins again.

  3. I pray that Sara will recover. As long as an animal has spirit and fight, there is still hope. Bless you for giving her that hope.

  4. God, I remember those bathsalts! :-D I wasn't raised with the knowledge of that kind of pampering. I had to laugh: just this Thursday, I had my first pedicure. Got 'NYPD Beet' dark coloured toenails now to boot. :-) Still, getting out in the world while I was still a teen, I paid attention to new things like facials, sushi (yum) and real salads. I was never able to afford them in my life, but I did try them. Most of the time, I couldn't justify the expense and eat at the same time. So this week - stressed beyond endurance - I dragged my beloved down to our usual hair salon and had a pedicure each. It comes with a foot spa, lovely smelling food scrub and massage. Oh Bliss. We had the ladies there laughing, especially when Bob did a credible warbled rendition of Charlene's song 'I've Never Been to Me'.
    Anyway, most of the ardous stuff is over, and now we're just painting a little bit and packing to leave for England on Monday. Can't wait for the English countryside to roll by and spend some time in Torquay where Agatha Christie was born. Gonna look at old books and hunt Ladybird books while my husband is adored by fans at a local convention.
    You're a Kentish lass, Jacqueline? That's where our family is from - says so on our family crest. :-D
    Yeah, I'm stuck between 'Homes' too: Australia and America. Both of them are home, but Bob and I are looking for a place to belong. Rhode Island has changed too much for my beloved, and we need a more creative area to play in. Then again, I get lonesome for lazy gum trees and moonless nights studded with the river of stars, and long drives to nowhere. Sigh, gotta go home again soon...
    Hope Sara is feeling much better - got all of my fingers crossed. Maybe I should reiki her.
    PS: get your trouble spot checked out while you're home - saves worry in the long run.

  5. from Jacqueline

    Great comment, Marianne. Have a lovely time in England, it's a good time of year to go. In the meantime, here I am, glued to the news because my home here in the USA is not far from the Day Fire raging in southern California. And thanks, all for the mail I've received about Sara. Yes, fingers crossed!